In the waning days of summer, I noticed some shredded newspaper on the floor of the shed where I keep gardening tools.
It was impossible to miss the tiny tears when I opened the door and daylight flooded the dark space. The rodent-like vandalism hadn't happened last year when I moved into the bungalow.
The roof of the shed was leaking in 2009, and until I made the badly needed repairs the shed smelled of cold, rotting, damp wood. But it has stayed clean and dry since, making it more inviting for critters seeking shelter.
I blew off the newspaper damage as just the playfulness of critters escaping the neighborhood's many stray cats. But then on another occasion as the weather started to turn cooler, I noticed that the unwanted visitors had chewed a hole in a plastic bag of grass seed that I had bought and planned to sow into the soil during the fall.
The mice somehow had gotten onto a high shelf and then scattered the seed all over the floor of the shed. At first I thought, uh-oh, that doesn't look good.
On a third trip to the shed, I opened the door, and the daylight caused more than a half-dozen mice to scatter. They had returned for a family meal on my grass seed. But they didn't flee together.
Starting with the smallest, skinniest mouse to the biggest, fattest of the pack, they ran in single file along the shelf behind some wood and then out some holes in the back of the shed. I was flabbergasted.
I hadn't seen anything like that since the early 1980s when a pack of mice invaded my first house in the fall. In both cases, the mice weren't just looking for a morsel or two.
It seemed that the invasion was more of a foretelling of a fierce winter ahead. What the mice were telling me in the late summer and early fall seems incredibly accurate.
The last couple of weeks have been brutal with temperatures falling to single digits. We got hammered last year, too, with a lot of cold and snow.
Who could forget the white Christmas of 2009, when the area was blanketed with snow and subfreezing temperatures? What the mice were trying to say as we head into Christmas is this winter could be worse than the last. The Farmers' Almanac, also mindful of nature's critters, is predicting "cold and very snowy" conditions for northern Missouri and northeastern Kansas.
The National Weather Service, however, predicts a good chance of above-average temperatures this winter in Kansas City. But AccuWeather.com, a private forecasting service, sides with the Farmer's Almanac, listing Missouri and Kansas as a "wintry battle zone."
Parents who send children to meet early morning school buses should get them good winter clothes this Christmas. Gift-giving for motorists should include a new battery, de-icing equipment and all-season radials or snow tires.
Another possible hard winter, however, adds to skeptical feelings about whether global warming exists. The extremes we're facing are part of climate change with temperatures creeping upward planetwide.
The greenhouse gas effect causes areas to experience more extreme weather conditions. That means hotter summers and colder winters with more precipitation. When I was in Europe last month, it rained and hailed every day. Residents said such weather had never happened, and they blamed it on climate change as the planet grows warmer.
NASA scientists reported recently that December 2009 through November 2010 was the warmest meteorological year in the 131 years of record keeping. The planet's average temperature was 58.32 degrees Fahrenheit.
It's why the United Nations global climate summit in Cancun, Mexico, this month, was so important. The agreement to limit greenhouse emissions offered some hope that the escalating problems caused by climate change eventually will be brought under control.
The enormity of the pact and the problem is a far cry from my little mouse troubles. But what's happening locally is tied to what's coming globally.
I got rid of my critter problem and sealed up the holes. But the bigger worry is the planet and getting more people to believe.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Lewis W. Diuguid is a member of The Kansas City Star's Editorial Board. Readers may write to him at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or by e-mail at Ldiuguid@kcstar.com.